The Origins of the Southwest Ring Road

This article was originally published on April 15 2015. It was updated on March 5 2016 to reflect newly found information about the City’s earliest plans for bypass routes in 1952 and 1953.

The City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta variously point to planning and studies from 1959 or the 1970s as the origin of the Southwest Ring Road.1 While these studies mark important milestones in the history of this road, particularly around planning for the current iteration, the truth is that the concept is a much older one than that.

1953_township

(Township plan of Bowness, Mongomery, and what would eventually become west Calgary, 1953)

Early efforts had been undertaken to plan for roads encircling Calgary’s downtown area, notably the town plan by Thomas Mawson in 1914, though these were not acted upon at the time. It wasn’t until a post-world war two explosion in population growth and vehicle ownership in Calgary had occurred that the issue of bypass roads would again be brought to the fore.

The 11-year period between 1952 and 1963 constitute the practical origin of Calgary’s bypass road system, and would see incredible effort and progress on this issue: from outright rejection, to intensive planning, and finally to construction of Calgary’s first southwest bypass route.

The Earliest Southwest Ring Road Plans

In order to address the rapid growth experienced in the post-war years, the City of Calgary began the process of creating a General Plan for the city in the late 1940s. By 1951, an interim report on the General Plan was produced, which included descriptions of primary roads planned for Calgary. A major route following 50th avenue SW across the Elbow river along the City’s southern edge and 14th street SW heading north across the Bow river2 was noted, and was intended to connect the Macleod and Banff trails and act as a bypass around the City’s core.

This interim report was followed by a preliminary major roads plan that was presented to City Council in the winter of 1952. The plan contained many of the same routes as the earlier General Plan interim report, though the southwest bypass was now envisioned along 24th street SW/Crowchild Trail, rather that 14th street SW, as the north-south portion of the route.3

1952-road-highlight

(A depiction of Calgary’s Major Roads Plan as presented to City Council. Source: Traffic Problem Solution Seen. Nigel Dunn. Calgary Herald. December 19, 1952. Highlight added.)

Although these initial planning efforts focused on routes contained within the City’s limits, plans were simultaneously being prepared on a wider scale; the City’s major road plan was not intended as a final document, but was intended to be continually updated and expanded as conditions demanded.

The City’s planning department had earlier drafted a different map in 1952 that for the first time described the series of planned bypass roads as a ‘Ring Road System’, and indicates, though does not fully depict, a southwest bypass located on 37th street SW.4 This was an internal working document that was not intended for the public, and shows how the City had begun to look outside of it’s city limits at more regional roads.

In late 1953 a further revision was completed, which for the first time fully detailed a Southwest Ring Road route around the west edge of the Glenmore reservoir.Comprising of 90th avenue SW on the south and 53rd street SW/Sarcee Trail on the west, this version of the Southwest Ring Road shares little in common with the modern route, though the use of the Sarcee Trail right-of-way and a crossing through the Weaselhead would remain part of the Southwest Ring Road plans for decades to follow.

1953-highlight

(Source: Untitled Map. December 1953. City of Calgary Corporate Records, Archives. Board of Commissioners S. IV box 189 F. 39.)

By the early 1950s the City had a defined, though extremely fluid, ring road plan. Work on the plan by the City of Calgary would continue for a number of years yet, though putting the scheme into action could not be done by the City alone; implementation would require a partner in the form of the Provincial government.

Continue reading “The Origins of the Southwest Ring Road”

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Highway 8 and the Ring Road

This month, the Government of Alberta revised the plans for the Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project by extending the western portion of the road into the Highway 8 corridor. This section of the ring road, what is currently Highway 8 from Sarcee trail to just west of the Calgary city limits and highlighted below in blue, had until recently been a part of the West Calgary Ring Road Project. This change shifts approximately 5km of roadway to the Southwest ring road, adds one additional interchange (69th street SW) and a new crossing over the Elbow River to the project, while removing the same from the West leg of the road.1

July_2015_update_new(The previous Southwest ring road route in green, with the addition of a portion of Highway 8 in blue, making up the most recent Southwest ring road alignment.2)

This section of Highway 8, between Sarcee trail and 101st street, has played an important role in the history of the ring road, not only recently, but for many years before.

South Morley Trail, Springbank Trail, Richmond Road and Highway 8

The modern Highway 8 partially follows the route of one of the oldest roads on Calgary’s west side. Richmond road, first known as South Morley Trail, was a key trail west of the city in the 19th century, and originally connected Calgary to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation Reserve via Springbank.3

1894_Richmond_Road(The Richmond road corridor highlighted in pink, 1894.3)
Continue reading “Highway 8 and the Ring Road”

Crossing the Elbow River – 1956 to 1986

The release of a ‘virtual tour’ video of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road this past week has given the public a chance to view the proposed plans for this road in a way that maps have not been able to. The detail and context provided by the video has raised concerns over the impacts the road will have on southwest Calgary, including the Elbow River, Fish Creek and the Weaselhead. The nature, size and proximity of the cut-and-fill river crossing, combined with a realignment of the rivers, appear to be at the heart of these concerns.

2014_elbow

(Source: Alberta Transportation)

The crossing of the Elbow river is arguably the most important link in the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. This new crossing of the Elbow river in southwest Calgary, the first since the Glenmore causeway opened in 1963, is projected as being the single most utilized portion of the new road. Establishing this crossing has seen numerous proposals over the years; from a low-level bridge in the 1950s to a dam in the 1980s (creating a new reservoir upstream from the Weaselhead) to a consideration of a high-level bridge, and even talk of a tunnel, in the 2000s. A new crossing of the Elbow river is an idea that has undergone many revisions and alternatives in the decades since it was first proposed.

The first part of this story looks at the early proposals and the history of the crossing of the Elbow River, from the first proposal in 1956 to the project’s (temporary) cancellation in 1986. Part two, which looks at the modern river crossing plans and alternatives from 2000 to 2014, will follow.

Early plans: models and maps

In 1955 the Province of Alberta made public its desire to establish a bypass highway in Calgary’s southwest, and by the following year, the City had drafted initial plans for this road. Around the same time the City was also developing plans for the Glenmore Reservoir parks, and these two proposals would converge in the form of the first publicly released concept for the Southwest Ring Road, then known as the West Bypass, and its crossing of the Elbow river.

The ambitious plan for the proposed Glenmore Parks, containing an aquarium, a solarium, botanical gardens, an ‘Indian Village’ and more, was estimated to cost $3 million and would take upwards of 25 years to implement. When the City’s planning department was seeking approval from both the public and the City Council for the proposed park system surrounding the Glenmore Reservoir, they created a model of their proposed ideas. Along the western portion of the model lay the West Bypass, and its crossing of the Elbow river was presented to the public for the first time.

na-5600-8138a

(Glenbow Archives NA-5600-8138a. Click for an enlargement of the Elbow River crossing)

The crossing, depicted as a 4-lane low-level bridge of about 180m in length with some amount of cut-and-fill on the north bank of the valley, was only conceptual at this stage. Detailed work on the entire development had yet to be carried out at the time of the model’s creation, and no engineering had gone into the designs at this point. (The road is shown along the bottom of the photograph above). Continue reading “Crossing the Elbow River – 1956 to 1986”

West and Southwest Calgary Ring Road Virtual Tour

On August 25 2014 the Province of Alberta released 3D Virtual Tour renderings of the West and Southwest Calgary Ring Road projects.

Southwest Calgary Ring Road Project:

West Calgary Ring Road Project:

Click for more information on the 2013 Southwest Ring Road deal (plus updates in March 2014 and June 2014), and the History of the Southwest Ring Road. For more information on the history of the West Calgary Ring Road, Click Here.

From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 2

This article follows on from the previous article, From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 1.

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By the close of the 1970s, the Tsuut’ina Nation and the City of Calgary seemed to be at an impasse regarding the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (or the Sarcee Trail Extension, as it was then known). Though generally indicating resistance to the idea of allowing a road through the reserve, the Nation nonetheless had been willing to continue to engage with the City in discussions, noting that any chance of success hinged on the Nation deriving certain benefits from the road. The City meanwhile had seemingly made it clear that they were not prepared to entertain certain requests of the Nation, particularly access from the ring road to potential developments on the reserve, and the extension of City utilities to those developments.

1984_reserve_view

At the same time, and in a seemingly contradictory move, the City had begun to limit itself from building the road along a route through the Weaselhead area within the City limits, thus ensuring that it needed to acquire land from the Nation in order to build the road. Though conditions to this point had not yet been right for progress, both parties seemed to be heading towards a middle ground, and information and cooperation were the last hurdles to clear before the story of the ring road could move forward. Continue reading “From No to Maybe: The turning point for the SW Ring Road, part 2”

Ring Road Update March 2014

The recent release of the 2014 Provincial Budget brought with it some new details regarding the funding of the Southwest Calgary Ring Road. In addition, the Province has released some initial timing and staging details regarding the implementation of the road, including the possible division of the road into two separate construction projects.

ringroad_march_2014

The Budget and the $5 Billion Price Tag

Released on March 6, the 2014 Alberta Budget sets aside $2.698 billion towards both Calgary and Edmonton’s ring road projects over the next three years. Of this, Finance Minister Doug Horner noted that $1.8 billion is to be dedicated to the Southwest Calgary Ring Road. In an address on March 7 to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Minister Horner reportedly stated that the full construction of the remaining portion of Calgary’s ring road would cost around $5 billion. The decision to deliver the project via traditional delivery or through Public Private Partnerships has yet to be made, and the Province is currently “investigating the viability of delivering the final segment of Calgary’s ring road in two separate projects using the Public Private Partnership (P3) procurement process” Continue reading “Ring Road Update March 2014”

The West Calgary Ring Road

Though the route of the southwest ring road through the Tsuut’ina reserve has in recent years garnered the most attention of the unfinished portions of Calgary’s bypass network, there are actually two additional pieces of infrastructure needed to complete the ring. Aside from the south leg, which extends the road to Macleod Trail in the south, there is also the West Calgary Ring Road, defined as the portion of the road that connects the Trans Canada Highway to Highway 8. This is the piece that I will cover here.

Early West Side Planning

1956-2009_west_ring_road

The earliest complete plans for a ring road around Calgary, dating from 1956, plotted much of the western leg of the circuit along the 53rd street SW corridor, better known today as Sarcee Trail. While the route to the north and south of this leg would undergo revisions, this western portion would remain largely unchanged for nearly 30 years, and the road would continue to be planned along the Sarcee Trail corridor until the mid 1980s. Continue reading “The West Calgary Ring Road”